Cliff May

At the Aspen Security Forum this past summer, Peter Bergen, CNN’s intrepid national-security analyst and a director at the New America Foundation, gave a talk titled: “Time to Declare Victory: Al Qaeda Is Defeated.”

Since then, AQ and/or its affiliates have launched lethal attacks on American diplomatic compounds in Libya and Yemen, hoisted an al-Qaeda flag above the U.S. embassy in Cairo, resurged in Iraq, and put boots on the ground in Syria. They have bombed Christian churches in Nigeria and the mosques of Sufi Muslims in Mali. They have battled African Union troops in Somalia. Within the last week, Taliban terrorists shot Malala Yousafzai, a 14-year-old Pakistani, for the “crime” of advocating education for girls, and bombed the office of moderate tribal elders in northwest Pakistan, killing at least 17 people.

In this light, it seems obvious to me that reports of AQ’s demise are at least premature. And I’m not alone. “Obama was out saying, Hey, look, we have got al-Qaeda back on its heels,” investigative reporter Bob Woodward said on Sunday. “Well, anyone in the intelligence committee knows that’s not true.”

Bergen, however, is sticking to his story. And he is not alone. On Tuesday, he and Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Lynch III (ret.), a Distinguished Research Fellow at the National Defense University, defended the AQ-is-defeated thesis in a debate with Thomas Joscelyn and Bill Roggio, two of my Foundation for Defense of Democracies colleagues. Bergen and Lynch argued that al-Qaeda’s offensive capabilities have been degraded and that without Osama bin Ladin, the organization lacks a “mythical mystique.”

That’s true as far as it goes. But degraded is not defeated. And Bergen goes further:

Even terrorists influenced by al Qaeda–like ideas have only killed 17 people in the United States since 9/11. About the same number of Americans are killed every year by dogs. In other words, in the United States during the past decade, dogs have been around ten times more deadly than jihadist terrorists. To win World War II, Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin did not feel it necessary to kill every Nazi. We should not impose a higher standard in the battle against al Qaeda.


Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.